The Windhoek High Court has declined a request to have Benin-born businessman Ernest Adjovi, who is a key witness in the controversial legal battle involving over N$23 million of taxpayers’ money, give evidence in trial by video conference.
Adjovi, the Kora All Africa Awards founder, has been a notable absentee in the ongoing trial, which started this week before Judge Herman Oosthuizen.
The Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) is suing Adjovi over the aborted music awards ceremony, which was scheduled to take place in Namibia in 2016. The NTB had paid more than N$23 million to the organisers of the Kora music awards, with Adjovi being one of the central figures. His lawyer, James Diedericks, requested that his client be allowed to testify and cross-examined via video conference, as he is currently not in the country for the hearing.
Diedericks said he only became aware on Tuesday that Adjovi and his witness were not available to take the stand in court. Diedericks’ request was strongly opposed by NTB’s lawyer Kaijata Kangueehi, who said they ought to have known their clients will not be in court and should have informed the court beforehand.
“I am not inclined to rule on the request. However, there is no agreement between the parties that the witnesses be allowed to testify via video conference. Moreover, it will interfere with cross-examination. I will not allow it,” said Judge Oosthuizen.
NTB took Adjovi and his company, Mundial Telecom, which is based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to court after they failed to pay back more than N$23.5 million in public funds. The terms of the agreement stipulate that Adjovi and his company would return the money to NTB within 60 days, with a deduction of less reasonable expenses incurred, in the event the awards do not take place in Namibia. However, this did not happen.
During his second day on the stand as a witness, NTB CEO Digu //Naobeb testified that the contract between Adjovi’s company and NTB was strictly handled by the Office of the Attorney General.
Former justice minister Sacky Shanghala was the attorney general at the time.
“It was a first in the history of the NTB that a contract was being handled by the Office of the Attorney General. I do not know why – but at the time, I just thought it is because the event was going to be a national event,” explained
//Naobeb. He noted that NTB’s consulting lawyer Kangueehi was sidelined during the contract negotiations.
It was his testimony that normal procurement procedures were not followed, while the agreement was rushed because Adjovi was leaving the country at the time. //Naobeb had concerns that Adjovi’s company was not registered in Namibia nor did the company have a local bank account.
But his concerns were not taken up. The money, which was transferred in portions, amounts to N$23.5 million. The cash was transferred to bank accounts in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, as well through banks in Germany and Spain between December 2015 and February 2016.
During October 2019, Shanghala told journalists that the case filed against Adjovi and his company was nothing but a waste of time and a ploy by those responsible to save face and create the impression that effort was made to recover the money.
He had suggested that owners of the Kora awards be engaged in a bid to settle the matter out of court.
However, in his witness statement, Adjovi implicated Shanghala, saying the former attorney general was well aware of the obligations of all parties involved in the matter.
“During a telephone discussion on 1 March 2016, Mr Shanghala undertook to find the sponsors necessary (as agreed by the government) to cover the costs of supplies and pay them directly. I understood this was the obligation of the government of Namibia in terms of the agreement between it and the first defendant,” Adjovi stated in his witness statement.
The hearing is scheduled to continue today.